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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Trademark > Notices > What is Essential in an Emergency? (NoticeID 1591790, http://chillingeffects.org/N/1591790) Printer-friendly version

What is Essential in an Emergency?

February 26, 2014

 

Sender Information:
Emergency Essentials, LLC
Sent by: [Attorney Name]
Bateman IP Law Group
[Street address]

Salt Lake City, UT, 84110, US

Recipient Information:
[Recipient]
The Emergency Lady
[Street address]

Ridgway, Colorado, 81432, United States


Sent via: email and postal mail
Re: Re: Emergency Essentials/ theemergencylady.com

Dear Ms. [Recipient]:

We represent Emergency Essentials, LLC. with respect to certain intellectual property matters. Emergency Essentials, LLC. and its predecessor has been operating for more than 25 years selling food storage and other emergency supplies. Emergency Essentials has spent substantial amounts of money in developing goodwill in its marks and has a large number of U.S. Trademark Registrations, including Registration Nos. 3,665,475; 3,659,764, 3,582,153; 3,582,152; 3,574,562; 3,571,179; 3,571,178; 3,571,177; 3,571,176; 3,571,175; 3,571,174; 3,571,173; 3,571,172; 3,568,952; 3,568,951; 3,439,473 for the mark EMERGENCY ESSENTIALS.

It has recently come to our attention that the website, www.theemergencylady.com. for which you are listed as the registrant, has been using the mark "EMERGENCY ESSENTIALS", as in the webpage found at www.theemergencylady.com/emergency_essentials_001027.html. (see exhibit, attached).

While Emergency Essentials appreciates the work your website is doing to promote emergency preparedness, it is also required to enforce its trademarks against those who are using the marks in such manner as may lead to a likelihood of confusion. After reviewing the website, we believe that consumers may incorrectly associate the website as being from or affiliated with our client. Therefore, we would respectfully request that you change the description on the website to replace the trademark "Emergency Essentials"
with terms such as "emergency supplies," "emergency provisions," "emergency goods," or some other term which does not use our client's trademark. Likewise, we would request that you do not use "Emergency Essentials" unless you are referring specifically to our client.

Within 10 days of this letter please confirm that you have ceased all use of our client's mark. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter and wish you the best with your endeavor. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Very truly yours,

[Attorney Signature]

Enclosure: Exhibit [A print out of the web page at www.theemergencylady.com/emergency_essentials_001027.html]
Cc: Emergency Essentials, LLC

 
FAQ: Questions and Answers

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Question: What can be protected as a trademark?

Answer: You can protect

  • names (such as company names, product names)
  • domain names if they label a product or service
  • images
  • symbols
  • logos
  • slogans or phrases
  • colors
  • product design
  • product packaging (known as trade dress)


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Question: What about common words that are used for many purposes?

Answer: Common words and alphabetical letters can be protectable trademarks if they are used in arbitrary or unusual ways. One cannot trademark DIESEL to sell that generic type of fuel, otherwise no other diesel fuel dealer could use the word to identify the product. However, one could trademark DIESEL as a brand of ice cream. The owner of the ice cream mark can't use its rights to prevent fuel dealers from using the word on their station pumps nor can it prevent anyone else from using the word for non-trademark purposes, such as a website listing diesel fuel dealers.

In general, the more a mark describes the good or service that it labels, the less strong the trademark protection it gets and the more freedom others have to use the same word for other purposes.

See also this question on the strength of trademarks.


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Question: What is "goodwill"?

Answer: Goodwill is a business or trademark owner's image, relationship with customers and suppliers, good reputation, and expectation of repeat patronage. It is the value a trademark owner builds in a brand.


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Question: Where can I find federal trademark registrations?

Answer: The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) keeps the US federal registry of trademarks. It has an online search capability, TESS, which contains more than 3 million pending, registered and dead federal trademarks. This database may not be complete. One should check the News page to see how current the information actually is.

Be aware: not all trademarks are contained in the US federal register. There are state trademarks, unregistered (common law marks) and foreign marks as well. A mark does not have to be registered to be valid.


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Question: What is the bare minimum of trademark law that I have to understand to decipher this C&D?

Answer: Your opponent should say that your mark is causing consumer confusion or is likely to cause consumer confusion. Or it should mention it's famousness and complain of dilution or tarnishment. (If the C&D does not say this, then no trademark claim may actually exist, and you can rest assured that your opponent is engaging in scare tactics or has hired a highly incompetent attorney). A mark protects more than identical copying, it extends to anything that is confusingly similar, even if it isn't exactly the same.

Functioning in a quasi-magical talisman-like capacity, trademarks designate the source or quality of goods or services. For this reason, the law protects against confusion in the market place by ensuring that marks on the same or similar products or services are sufficiently different. The law also protects famous marks against dilution of value and tarnishment of the reputation of the goods or services on which it appears or the source of those products, regardless of any confusion.

You can roughly assess the validity of your opponent?s claim of confusion by classifying the marks involved. A trademark can fall into one of 5 categories. It can be: (1) fanciful; (2) arbitrary; (3) suggestive; (4) descriptive; or (5) generic. Not all of these varieties of marks are entitled to the same level, or indeed any level, of trademark protection.

A fanciful mark is a mark someone made up; examples include KODAK or H?AGEN-DAZS. An arbitrary mark is a known term applied to a completely unrelated product or service; for instance, AMAZON.com for an online book-store cum one-stop shopping site or APPLE for computers. Fanciful and arbitrary marks are considered strong marks and garner substantial trademark protection.

A suggestive mark is one that hints at the product, but which requires an act of imagination to make the connection: COPPERTONE for sun tan lotion or PENGUIN for coolers or refrigerators are examples. Suggestive marks are also strong marks and receive protection.

A descriptive mark, predictably, describes the product: HOLIDAY INN describes a vacation hotel and FISH-FRI describes batter for frying fish. Descriptive marks do not receive any trademark protection unless their user has used them in commerce and has built up secondary meaning. "Secondary meaning" occurs when consumers identify the goods or services on which the descriptive term appears with a single source. In other words, if consumers know that HOLIDAY INN hotels are all affiliated with a single source, then the mark has secondary meaning and receives trademark protection.

Finally, generic marks simply designate the variety of goods involved: for example, "cola" used on soft drinks and "perfume" on perfume are both generic terms. Generic marks never receive any trademark protection; they are free for everybody to use. (Keep in mind, though, that "Cola" on a nightclub is arbitrary, and therefore receives protection).

If your opponent is complaining that you have used the word "bakery" for a bake shop or "car" for a car repair shop, then you can safely guess that the c & d is baseless. On the other hand, if your opponent is concerned about the fact that both of you use of the term "Sweet Pickles" on alpaca sweaters, then the c & d may have some merit.

There are a few more wrinkles as well. Some marks are word marks (text only) and others are design marks (images which may or may not include text). Design marks do not provide independent protectin for the text incorporated in the design. So if the mark is only a design mark, it doesn't prevent others from using the text so long as they don't copy the design elements.


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Question: What are the limits of trademark rights?

Answer: There are many limits, including:

  • Fair Use
    There are two situations where the doctrine of fair use prevents infringement:
    1. The term is a way to describe another good or service, using its descriptive term and not its secondary meaning. The idea behind this fair use is that a trademark holder does not have the exclusive right to use a word that is merely descriptive, since this decreases the words available to describe. If the term is not used to label any particular goods or services at all, but is perhaps used in a literary fashion as part of a narrative, then this is a non-commercial use even if the narrative is commercially sold.
    2. Nominative fair use
      This is when a potential infringer (or defendant) uses the registered trademark to identify the trademark holder's product or service in conjunction with his or her own. To invoke this defense, the defendant must prove the following elements:
      • the product or service cannot be readily identified without the mark
      • he/she only uses as much of the mark as is necessary to identify the goods or services
      • he/she does nothing with the mark to suggest that the trademark holder has given his approval to the defendant
  • Parody Use
    Parodies of trademarked products have traditionally been permitted in print and other media publications. A parody must convey two simultaneous -- and contradictory -- messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody.
  • Non-commercial Use
    If no income is solicited or earned by using someone else's mark, this use is not normally infringement. Trademark rights protect consumers from purchasing inferior goods because of false labeling. If no goods or services are being offered, or the goods would not be confused with those of the mark owner, or if the term is being used in a literary sense, but not to label or otherwise identify the origin of other goods or services, then the term is not being used commercially.
  • Product Comparison and News Reporting
    Even in a commercial use, you can refer to someone else?s goods by their trademarked name when comparing them to other products. News reporting is also exempt.
  • Geographic Limitations
    A trademark is protected only within the geographic area where the mark is used and its reputation is established. For federally registered marks, protection is nationwide. For other marks, geographical use must be considered. For example, if John Doe owns the mark Timothy's Bakery in Boston, there is not likely to be any infringement if Jane Roe uses Timothy's Bakery to describe a bakery in Los Angeles. They don't sell to the same customers, so those customers aren't confused.
  • Non-competing or Non-confusing Use
    Trademark rights only protect the particular type of goods and services that the mark owner is selling under the trademark. Some rights to expansion into related product lines have been recognized, but generally, if you are selling goods or services that do not remotely compete with those of the mark owner, this is generally strong evidence that consumers would not be confused and that no infringement exists. This defense may not exist if the mark is a famous one, however. In dilution cases, confusion is not the standard, so use on any type of good or service might cause infringement by dilution of a famous mark.


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Question: What implication does alleged confusion have on claims of trademark infringement?

Answer: A mark that is confusingly similar so closely resembles a registered trademark that it is likely to confuse consumers as to the source of the product or service. Consumers could be likely to believe that the product with the confusingly similar mark is produced by the organization that holds the registered mark. Someone who holds a confusingly similar mark benefits from the good will associated with the registered mark and can lure customers to his/her product or service instead. Infringement is determined by whether your mark is confusingly similar to a registered mark. The factors that determine infringement include:

  • proof of actual confusion
  • strength of the established mark
  • proximity of the goods in the marketplace
  • similarity of the marks? sound
  • appearance and meaning
  • how the goods are marketed
  • type of product and how discerning the customer is
  • intent behind selecting the mark
  • likelihood of expansion in the market of the goods


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Question: Can I use a trademark in my blog's name or in the title of a blog post?

Answer: Yes, if it is relevant to the subject of your discussion and does not confuse people into thinking the trademark holder endorses your content. Courts have found that non-misleading use of trademarks in URLs and domain names of critical websites is fair. (Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp. v. Faber, URL http://www.compupix.com/ballysucks; Bosley Medical Institute v. Kremer, domain name www.bosleymedical.com). Companies can get particularly annoyed about these uses because they may make your post appear in search results relating to the company, but that doesn't give them a right to stop you.

Sometimes, you might use a trademark without even knowing someone claims it as a trademark. That is permitted as long as you're not making commercial use in the same category of goods or services for which the trademark applies. Anyone can sell diesel fuel even though one company has trademarked DIESEL for jeans. Only holders of "famous" trademarks, like CocaCola, can stop use in all categories, but even they can't block non-commercial uses of their marks.


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